40% of landlords say that property damage is their biggest bugbear. It’s possibly the most misunderstood area of the renting process, as there’s often many grey areas. Often, there’s confusion around who is responsible for what, what damage is accidental and how to know the difference between damage and fair wear and tear. It has been reported that tenants win 90% of independently adjudicated disputes regarding fair use of properties. Many landlords feel that tenants are often not held accountable for damages created within rental property when they should be, so where we do draw the lines?
Landlords are responsible for the repair and maintenance of a property’s structure and interior, defined in the Landlord and Tenant Act from 1985 and the Housing Act of 2004. Generally speaking, a landlord is to keep the exterior in repair, including the roof, external walls, the foundations, windows, doors, drains and exterior pipes, the guttering and water collection and lastly, the fence. If the tenant or any of their guests cause damage to any of these aspects, it’s up to them to cover the costs of the repairs.
Exterior damage can be dangerous if it’s ignored - the last thing you want is your tenant hurting themselves because you didn’t get round to fixing a loose roof tile. If it’s a risk to tenants wellbeing, it’s mandatory for you to repair it within reasonable time. However, cosmetic and non-essential damages such as rendering or stone cladding of an exterior wall are your discretion to repair, if and when you want to. A big grey area is often the garden. It differs from property to property, so you’ll need to clarify who is responsible for what in the tenancy agreement. Often, it falls to the tenant, aside from the fencing, driveway and patio which are usually classed as the property exterior that the landlord would handle.
It goes without saying that it is a landlord’s responsibility to provide tenants with a safe and sound property to live in. That means ensuring that all the safety features are correctly installed, maintained and in good working order. Gas equipment is to done so by a gas safe engineer, with a copy of the certificate given to the tenants to hang onto. Electrics have become a big factor in ensuring the safety of a home, with new recommended safety measures being introduced to the private housing sector.
According to the most recent data, private rental tenants face a higher risk of electrical shock and fires caused by electrical faults in their homes compared to social housing tenants, so five year mandatory electrical installation safety checks and safety certificates for tenants to prove that checks and repair work have been completed are now in place. And let’s not forget fire safety - provide and maintain a smoke alarm on each storey of a property and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room necessary. Most furniture and furnishings on the market are fire safe these days but double check and ensure that there’s an available escape route at all times. As for appliances, there’s no single approach however, whatever you provide to your tenants is your responsibility to maintain and keep safe to be used. Test them regularly to make sure there’s no chance of them malfunctioning and causing damage. This way, you can keep an eye on them and are more likely to notice if your tenant is causing unnecessary damage to them by misusing them. As with most aspects of property damage, the golden rule is that if the tenant or any of their guests cause damage, it is their responsibility to pay up for repairs or replacements.
Accident or not, damage should be reported to you straight away. This could be anything from a broken tables, chairs or bed frames, a burn in the carpet, broken windows caused by the tenant or someone they know, pet damage, broken curtain poles or damaged appliances due to bad usage. Sometimes damage is less obvious, like mould growing as a result of bad ventilation. This kind of damage can be paid for using your tenants deposit, as it goes beyond fair wear and tear. To open the lines of communication, provide your tenant with a list of preferred repairmen to use in the event of an accident. This should encourage them to handle accidents promptly and in the right way, instead of shying away from the problem.
This element of damage is possibly every landlord’s worst nightmare. Along with it comes a difficult tenant and maybe even legal action. Malicious damage is classed as deliberate damage caused to a property and/or possessions by an individual who is lawfully on the premises, i.e. your tenant.
The difficulty comes with knowing what is an accident and what could be malicious. If you’re having a problematic relationship with your tenant and find fixtures and fittings damaged or removed, or punch holes in the wall, this could indicate malicious damage. The decision will ultimately come down to the landlord insurance company but be sure to take photographic evidence and report all incidents of malicious damage to the police so that you can retain a crime reference number.
The law now differentiates between fair wear and tear and actual damage, so it is no longer a landlord’s discretion. It is legally defined by the House of Lords as ‘reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces’ - which basically means damage that will inevitably occur as a result of the property being lived in. This can include scuffs on the walls, wear on carpets and faded curtains. It’s not the kind of damage that you can expect a tenant to pay for. If some items in the house were worn at the start of the tenancy and by the end of the tenancy are damaged as a result of usage, this could still be classed as fair wear and tear - it’s unfair to expect your property and its contents back in better condition than at the start of the tenancy. It’s becoming more and more common for landlords to attempt to classify ordinary wear and tear as damage without providing photographic or written evidence, so it’s important that we know where the line is. Landlords can also now claim 10% on a ‘wear and tear allowance’ on any furnishings that they are not providing for the first time in a tenancy.